BROOMFIELD, CO – Dr. Zung Vu Tran, the co-founder and chief science officer of MedAware Systems, a Broomfield-based digital health company, first learned about the meta-analytic approach to medical research as a PhD student in the late 1970s. The ability of meta-analysis to draw conclusions from a range of clinical studies fascinated Dr. Tran, who saw it as a way to reduce medical error by identifying which treatments were proven to be effective, and which were not.
“What impressed me most about the meta-analytic approach was how it combined separate parts to create a whole that allowed you to understand the broader context of the research,” Dr. Tran explained. “And as I continued in my career, receiving grants and publishing articles – it was a very traditional academic career – my respect for the approach only grew.”
But performing a meta-analysis, which standardizes the different measures used in clinical studies so their findings can be understood collectively, takes time, with most meta-analyses occurring long after the studies they analyze have been published. And with hundreds of thousands of clinical studies currently being published each year, the prospect of performing a comprehensive meta-analysis on treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s has grown more and more daunting.
According to Dr. Tran, healthcare professionals of all kinds have felt the consequences of this deluge of data, from practicing physicians seeking insight into best practices to the experts who are tasked with creating clinical standards.
“When a committee of experts gets together to develop or revise medical practice guidelines, they’ll often rely on prior knowledge of the kind of literature they want to review and where to find it. They’ll obviously use their expertise, because if ischemic heart disease is your specialty, you know the literature – or you think you know the literature. But their coverage of the research is not comprehensive.”
As a member of several such committees, Dr. Tran witnessed firsthand how the inability to review all of the available research often caused experts to rely on their opinions when developing medical guidelines. Later conversations with practicing physicians led him to conclude that they were in a similar position.
“An overwhelming load of research gets published each year,” Dr. Tran said. “Aside from doing an online search or reading a medical journal, practicing physicians really have no way to access and interpret this vast amount of data.”
From Dr. Tran’s perspective, remedying this situation required the widespread adoption of a process of comprehensive review and meta-analysis. But he quickly realized that he wouldn’t be able to achieve a change of this magnitude from within the system.
“I got to the point where I said, ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’ So I started thinking about what I could do. ‘Well, I could get a big grant,’ I thought. But no, that would take years, and I would have to convince everyone that this was necessary, and they all had this very traditional mindset that said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ So I thought, ‘Commercialization – maybe that’s the key.”
In 2013, alongside a team of veteran entrepreneurs, Dr. Tran founded MedAware Systems, a digital health company that enables clinicians of all kinds to perform instant meta-analyses of the latest medical research. (Read the CyberMed News profile of MedAware Systems here.) In the three years since its founding, MedAware Systems’ analysts have read through thousands of clinical studies, extracting key information from each and adding it to the company’s database.
“We’ve taken the relevant data from each study – all of the patient demographics, including gender, socioeconomic status, and condition, as well as the type of treatment, outcome, and measurement – so that all you need to do to find the optimal treatment for your patient is access our program.”
According to Dr. Tran, while MedAware Systems provides experts with a reliable way to perform comprehensive reviews when creating standards, it also empowers practicing physicians to compare those standards to the latest research.
“Basically, we’re democratizing the data. Even though a lot of this information is available to everyone, clinicians can’t really read through it all, so the interpretation of the research is controlled by a handful of experts. How do we change this? I think MedAware Systems is the first step.”